The theory of recapitulation, also called the biogenetic law or embryological parallelism—often expressed using Ernst Haeckel‘s phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny“—is a historical hypothesis that the development of the embryo of an animal, from fertilization to gestation or hatching (ontogeny), goes through stages resembling or representing successive adult stages in the evolution of the animal’s remote ancestors (phylogeny). It was formulated in the 1820s by Étienne Serres based on the work of Johann Friedrich Meckel, after whom it is also known as Meckel–Serres law.
Since embryos also evolve in different ways, the shortcomings of the theory had been recognized by the early 20th century, and it had been relegated to “biological mythology” by the mid-20th century.
Analogies to recapitulation theory have been formulated in other fields, including cognitive development and music criticism.
Carl Friedrich Kielmeyer (22 October 1765 – 14 August 1844) was a German biologist and naturalist born in Bebenhausen, today part of the city of Tübingen. He was a pioneer of Naturphilosophie, helped to establish organic chemistry (Pflanzenchemie) as a field, and developed an early version of recapitulation theory through the observation of animal embryos.